21 June 2013

Columbia East to West

Some days I feel like I could run forever. This morning was one of those days. I took a run that covered central city neighborhoods, skirted declining strip malls, through an abandoned trailer court and all under a brilliant sunrise.

Can I bottle this feeling of satisfaction and carry it with me all day?

Go get 'em!

03 June 2013

Why I floated the Hinson Creek.

You might expect some snappy answer like "Because it was there." Truth is I floated the Hinkson Creek last weekend with my friend Mike because it is our watershed. What better way to get to know our local waters than riding out a stormwater engorged creek?
The raging Hinkson Creek at the put-in.
Mike and I reveling in our accomplishment: we joined the Hinkson Float fraternity.

Fido will keep us safe from harm.
Since I came to Columbia in 1989 I have known the Hinkson but never as well as I wanted to know her. I had occasionally taken a dip in the Hinkson feeling like there was no better way to be of a place than to lay on my back in the creek that flows through my town, my place. Immersed in the creek's trickling flow and gazing up at the clouds on a summer day leaves me feeling like a got somewhere far from home. In reality it is a less than 2 mile bicycle ride from my home to the nearest Hinkson Creek access.

This urban watershed of ours makes regular press for being polluted. The politicians and planners have collaborated then fought then collaborated some more to come up with a plan for how to mitigate pollution in the creek. I don't want to be scared from an exciting float by a little pollution and politics.

Last Saturday I finally did it.

Floating the Upper Hinkson required a convergence of lots of rain, an available Saturday and a willing partner. Mike and I put in near the Mexico Gravel Road/Vandiver roundbaouts. The water was moving fast. We counted ourselves lucky since wet leaves were stuck in the trees eight or so feet above our heads. The creek had come down a lot and recently.

Let me admit, yes, we did flip the boat once. A sycamore had fallen across the creek and collected many branches in its mass. A small chute was't quite enough for Mike and I to pass freely. In seemingly slow motion we came up to the brush heap and flipped our ride: Mike's Old Town canoe. ("The Cadillac of cheap canoes" as Mike reminds me.) In the flip Mike lost his glasses. We watched one of his Cabella's paddle float away. My camera got wet.

The canoe once righted and drained was deemed worthy of floating again. We paddled on with a commitment to watch for obstructions more closely.

Post-flip, as rocks and trees impeded our progress, Mike and I hopped out the back of the boat often to swim or walk Fido and the canoe to shore. From the bank we could better suss out the ripples ahead of us. Overall we paddled 8.26 miles, floated under seven or so bridges, portaged around one low-water bridge and took out at another. My dear wife Lisa met us at the takeout near the MU ballfields and carried out soggy selves back to Mike's truck.
Break time on the swim-walk-float trip

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Disclaimer: this is not a float for paddlers who aren't nimble, attentive and a bit nuts. Most months of the year the Hinkson flows very little. With luck, an available day and a willing partner there is a fast-moving (at times) floatable creek running through the heart of Columbia, Missouri.

My pictures saved from the once-waterlogged camera don't begin to show what a near wilderness runs in our midst. Undeveloped and largely unmarred by development the Upper Hinkson is a gem that won't give up her secrets easily.

We did it, Ma!

28 April 2013

Not alone

As the weather warms here in Missouri, I notice more tree blooms, short skirts, food trucks and bikes on the road.

More bicycles on the road is always a good thing. My years in Columbia give me a perspective on the total numbers of bicyclists. With time there are certainly more people choosing to ride. Sure there are plumb more people in Columbia as time marches on but along with that a larger percentage of people are riding.

There are many kinds of bicyclists in the world and they occasionally talk the same bike language, sometimes not. I see commuters like myself on the road. We are out there every day making our way to work, social engagements, the store and other destinations. As a bike commuter the bike is my choice of mode. When someone asks incredulously on an especially  rainy, snowy, hot or cold day "Did you ride your BICYCLE today?" I relish asking them right back "How else would I have gotten here?" I am not trying to be an asshole rather trying to make it clear that bicycle riding for me is not a fair-weather thang.

Along with commuters, I see bike racers and recreational trail riders. What consistnetly surprises me is how rarely these riders choose to ride their bikes to a destination. Yeah, these folks are riders, too, but I mainly don't get where they are coming from or going to. I run for fun as readers of this blog will know but I ride for my commute. Riding for the sake of riding is fun, too. Last weekend I took a recreational bike ride down to see the flooding Missouri River, enjoyed the trail, a soda at Coopers Landing and the trail ride home. I get it. I am not a hater.

There are also seasonal bicyclists and bicycle-by-default riders. Seasonal bicyclists hang up their ride from October until April choosing to drive during winter weather. Bicyclists-by-default are those riders who because of funds can't afford a car. This group is made up of international students, the poor and almost everyone who bikes in Zambia. They might rather drive a car but funds don't allow that. So they ride.

Mnay of my fellow bicyclists follow common bike rules. Many do not.

Signal a turn.
Stop at intersections that require cars to stop.
Don't ride two abreast in traffic.
Wear a helmet for gawd's sake.

These are common sense and legal rules that I follow because it is important to be predictable for the drivers out there. We bicyclists manage to engender a heap of hate from drivers and most of it comes from being unpredictable.

Much of the anger from drivers has nothing to do with bicycles rather is attributable to general anxiety and fear growing in American culture these days. Alarm system anyone? Gotta Glock?

There is a quote out there about there being no joy greater than seeing an adult on a bicycle. I get that.

I feel joy when I see other Columbians pedaling around town. Be they clad in spandex, thrift scores or business casual attire these bicyclists represent a cultural shift that is significant. Bicycles work for fun or for commuting. Just please don't hang them on the wall of your non-bicycle shop.

18 April 2013

East St. Louis, Illinois Saturday, April 13, 2013

Full up Flat Branch

After a couple inches of rain Columbia's Flat Branch Creek is swollen and moving fast. This morning I snapped a few pictures of the creek as it moved fast and full through the MKT underpasses just below the MU Power Plant.
Yesterday my friend Andy and I took a walk along the trail in search of morel mushrooms and wildflowers. Alas, we found no morels but did witness several species of ephemeral, spring wildflowers including wild ginger and possibly bluebells. Thanks to that hour of exploration we saw cardinals and several deer hanging out in this small, urban riparian zone.

Update: I found my first ever morel mushroom last weekend just outside Columbia! Where do I get an application for membership in this club?

12 April 2013

Columbia Train Service

How I wouldn't love to hop on a train in Columbia and ride the rails to far-flung destinations. A Columbia connection with St. Louis and Kansas City would bring so many visitors to Our Fair City as well as provide an exiting mass transit option to travel from Columbia. I am not going to hold my breath awaiting a new train line from Columbia, Missouri.

One the one hand state funding for our cross-state Amtrak line seems only tentatively funded. Every year there is talk of defunding the line but then somehow miraculously the State Legislature makes the needed allocation. Money will always be an issue for expanding rail in Missouri and anywhere. People love their cars, they use then and they don't want to be limited by the inherently limited train schedule.

On the other hand, Amtrak just reported its most successful month ever in March 2013. Does demand drive service increases? Doubtful we'll see anything new coming to Missouri's rail lines anytime soon.
Columbia's Katy Station back in the train era. The structure now serves as Shiloh, a college kid watering hole.

For now the existing options for rail travel from Columbia involve a car drive to Jefferson City or LaPlata where one can catch a train to St. Louis, Kansas City or Chicago. Another option is to ride on Friday or Saturday the Columbia Star Dinner Train to Centralia and back. Once you get to Centralia there's no connecting passenger train so, well, you may as well come back to Columbia. A round trip ride on the Columbia Star Dinner Train is all they sell so far as I can tell.

Looking ahead at the 50-year or 100-year plan (is there such a thing?) there are a few scenarios that are exciting to visualize. Since tearing rebuilding train lines on the bed of our former MKT line out of town would be politically unpopular I'd like to see service on the COLT line expanded to include a line running to Centralia. At that point a new cross-state line through Moberly could get train commuters to Kansas City and St. Louis. This line could replace the line that currently operates through Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia and Lee's Summit. I'd venture to guess more people live near the rail line that parallels Interstate 70 than do the existing line that hugs the Missouri River valley. Occasionally in the debate over how to fund widening of I-70 some sane voice proposes a train line down the center of the highway only to be silenced under the voices of the fiscally conservative legislators and transportation planners at MoDOT.

In the meantime we'll keep driving to Jefferson City, LaPlata, Kansas City or St. Louis to occasionally hop the train to Chicago, New York, Albuquerque or any other number of captivating destinations.